Hands On With The HP Z840 Part 1

Hands On With The HP Z840 Part 1

February 21, 2015

In this Insight,Robbie gets hands on with the powerful new HP Z840 & discusses his configuration and why he's making a the switch to Windows


Building A New High Powered Grading Rig

I remember when my family got our first Apple computer.

Like many American families watching SuperBowl XVIII we were floored by the now famous 1984 Spot from Apple introducing the Macintosh.

I guess my folks who are both Washington Redskins fans were more impressed by the ad than Washington’s playing (they lost to the Oakland Raiders 38-9).

So we got a Mac!

Since that day, almost exclusively I’ve been using machines made by Apple.

While never quite the die hard ‘fan boy’ like many people I know, it’s a fair statement to say that I’m a pretty huge fan of the Mac experience.

I think like many of our members here on MixingLight.com the same is true – there is just something about the Mac that’s ‘different’ and the idea of Windows and a generic PC is just anathema to the ideals of being an Apple computer owner.

When Apple introduced the new Mac Pro…well, let’s just say that put me into a bit of a tailspin.

I didn’t know if I should jump in feet first or jump ship.

After over a year of thinking, I decided I had to do something – my 2010 Mac Pro just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Obviously, based on the title of this Insight you can deduce what I did!

I thought it’d be useful to share with you what went into making the switch, the machine I configured and give you a tour of the machine.

However, that only paints part of the picture.

In Part 2 of this series I will explore actually using the machine, how Resolve, Adobe Apps, and other tools behave, and share with you how the transition with my main day to day work machine has gone.

The Psychology Of Making The Switch

If you’re a serious Mac user, the idea of going to Windows makes your skin crawl.

For years we’ve be indoctrinated to ‘think different’.

We’ve been told Windows is nothing but pain and misery and that the hardware/design of Windows based computers is sub-par.

One a few different levels those things may be true, but just believing things about Windows without trying it out for yourself is a bit like hating a style of food without ever sampling it.

For many Mac users there is a deeply held belief that Windows sucks and The Mac OS and Hardware are just better.

I’m too early in my experience with Windows to say that’s true or complete BS, but here is one thing I believe and was the determining factor for me attempting to make a switch to Windows.

Apple Pro Machines Aren’t The Pro Machines They Used To Be. 

Yes, I know I’ll catch some flack for that – it’s true that Apple continues to innovate with machines – Thunderbolt, Dual GPUs standard, Flash PCI storage, thermal design and so on.

But in many ways, Apple is forcing users to make a revolutionary leap forward rather than an evolutionary one and that is causing many people, myself included, to look elsewhere for other options for their postproduction computing needs.

On the Mac I can’t get a machine with Dual Processors – important for encoding/decoding.

I can’t upgrade to a more powerful GPU when a new one comes out due to the cards being proprietary in design and non-removeable (at least to my understanding).

The DDR3 memory is significantly slower then DDR4 used on many newer PC designs.

Well, I CAN probably get those things when a new new Mac Pro comes out – but that would mean an entirely new machine and not upgrading parts based on my need.

I’ll be honest, just thinking about and discussing the possible switch to a Windows based machine got me a lot of dirty looks in the circles that I work in.

But after building a detailed Pro/Con list and as I mentioned thinking about the switch for over a year, all signs pointed me to a Windows based machine like the Z840 which has clear advantages in upgradability and true raw power compared to a new Mac Pro, and that was when I had my ‘breakthrough’ and decided to dive in head first.

So What? Now You Hate The Mac?

Heck no!  I love the Mac!  Making a switch for my hero system did not and does not mean I’m abandoning the Mac at all!

The majority of machines in my facility, the computers I have home and the devices my family use are all stamped with and designed by Apple in Cupertino, California.

I have an amazingly wonderful iMac that I use at home, a Mac Book Pro for travel, iPads, iPhones and yes, I’ll probably get an Apple Watch.

For me, iMacs, new Mac Pros and Mac portables fill 96% of my computing needs and for the foreseeable future it’ll remain that way.

But for top end professional work and filling that last 4% – that’s where the HP Z840 comes in.

Linux Too?

Windows is not for everyone (it might not be for me in the long run).

One thing that’s important to note about the Z840 (and other HP machines) is you can run Linux on them!

I’ll cover my journey into setting up Cent OS to run Linux Resolve in Part 2 (or possibly Part 3) of this series.

It’s good to know that using Linux on a Z840 running Resolve is 100% possible to do and has many advantages like ProRes support, ZFS file system, number of GPUs etc.

I have an embarrassingly long battle with Linux in my shop – mainly due to my poor planning and implementation, but for now, I do have a Linux SSD ready to go for the Z840 if Windows dosn’t workout for me.

With that said, I’m hoping it does!

My Configuration

As I mentioned, the driving factor with the choice to go to a PC was expandability and at the end of the day I settled on an HP z840.

Last year I had the opportunity to travel to the HP Workstation Headquarters out in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

There I got a tour of the facility, saw what went into the testing, manufacturing and development of HP’s pro workstations and met the team behind the design and marketing of these computers.

Let’s put it this way – A LOT goes into making these computers as good as they are.

These machines are ridiculously engineered – so much so that HP has a standard 3 year warranty with them – yep, you get 3 years standard no Apple Care needed!

After the experience of being at HP, it was settled that I was going to be getting an HP and the Z820 at the time, and now Z840 as the top end machine made sense for my needs.

Here is how I configured the machine.  If you’d like to configure you’re own machine head over to the HP Site.

  • 1125 Watt Power Supply
  • HP Thunderbolt 2 PCI Card
  • 512GB SSD (System Drive)
  • Blu-Ray Drive (BDXL capable)
  • Intel 2690 v3 2.6 Ghz 12 Core Xeon Processor x 2
  • 64GB DDR-4 2133 RAM
  • Rackmount Kit

There are a few more things that I didn’t want to pay HP for that I either had or sourced separately.  You’ll notice the big things missing from the above config are additional storage and graphics cards.

  • 4x 1TB Samsung EVO 850 SSDs – I put these into a software RAID 0. Nope, this is not for DropBox!  I share a SAN and sometimes for 4k+ EXR/DPX I need much faster I/O.  I can usually get nearly 2 GB/s out of this setup.
  • Nvidia GTX 970 SSC – Super clocked version of the 970.  This is my monitor card.  You might be thinking isn’t 4GB of the latest Nvidia goodness overkill to run your Resolve GUI?  Well, it’s not a Titan, nor the 980 BUT it has lots of horsepower for Adobe Apps and other non-grading GPU accelerated apps.  And its only $349.
  • ATTO R680 Raid Card – This SAS card attaches to a older Sonnet Tech RAID I have.  AT 24TB its a fast and offers huge capacity for a near term back up before going back out to LTO.
  • QLogic 8GB Fiber Card – To attach to our SAN.  This is my main storage.
  • Cubix HBA – Host card for Cubix Elite Desktop Box that host 3x Titan Blacks used for processing in Resolve.

A few additional thoughts on the config:

1125 Watt Power supply lets me not worry about putting in more powerful GPUs and other drives, etc. into the box in the future.

While the HP Z840 is available with processors with higher clock speed and more cores (14 and 18 per processor) I felt the dual 12 cores at 2.6 gave a good balance of clock speed and number of cores per processor.

Generally speaking, the more cores the lower the clock speed. While different apps use these characters differently I felt the 2690s were a good middle ground.

For the price, I didn’t think the 128GB of default RAM was worth the extra 2k. 64GB still gives about 2.5GB per core. As the cost of the new DDR4 RAM comes down I may think about adding another 64GB.  The Z840 can handle (in the near future) 2TB of memory!  

I’ve opted to go Thunderbolt with a BMD UltraStudio 4k for my video/audio I/O thus why I picked up the HP Thunderbolt 2 card.  I wanted to conserve PCI slots in the machine and I really only work on HD and UHD.  Having true DCI 4k output was not a priority for me.

While the HP Thunderbolt card is only a single port TB 2 card, the UltraStudio 4k has a second port so I can daisy chain drives and other TB devices.

That’s actually an important point – many clients (Mac Based) are delivering Thunderbolt drives these days.  I wanted the ability to directly support these drives without having to plug in elsewhere at my facility.

With that said, the z840 is stuffed with USB 3 ports as well.

A rack mount option was actually a really big deal for me as all of our gear is in a central machine room and having it rack mounted makes it secure and accessible.

I’ll show you the rack setup in Part 2, but the rack rails are really nice!  They allow you to slide the machine in and out of the rack making getting inside of the machine easy to do if you need to perform maintenance or install a new piece of hardware.

Design & Opening Up The Machine

Let me just say I think this is one of the best designed machines I’ve ever had the privilege of using.

Of course EVERY computer manufacturer owes homage to Apple for super clean and functional industrial design when it comes to computer case design.

With that said, the engineering and case design of this machine is pretty amazing, but there are more plastic and bendy parts vs. an older or even new Mac Pro, but to me that’s a benefit!  As result, the computer doesn’t weigh 200lbs!

Let’s start with overall design and dimensions.  The box is a fairly typical large computer case measuring in at 8 x 20.7 x 17.5 in (20.3 x 52.5 x 44.4 cm).  Empty, the machine is about 46lbs/21Kg


The z840 is a nicely sculpted full sized computer case


The front of the machine is mainly composed of a large slotted grill that allows for efficient airflow from the front (air in) to back (air out) design.  Also, on the front you’ll find 2 5.25″ bays and one slim ODD bay.

HP Z840-2
I put a Blu-Ray Drive in capable of burning standard Blu-Ray discs & BDXL discs too. The 5.25in bays would be a good fit for an internal SAS LTO drive


On the right hand edge of the front part of the case you’ll find some USB 3 and audio in/out connections.  Having 4 USB 3 connections on the front of the case is nice.  I can fill those up easily with connected drives, flash memory sticks and so on.  Personally, I don’t have much use for the mic and headphone outs as my setup is in a machine room but for many those will be nice to have.

HP Z840
A power button, 4 USB 3 ports and audio in/out are featured on the front of the HP Z840


The other nice thing about the Z840 are the top handles that make moving the heavy machine around pretty easy.  As an added bonus, they’re not the sharp edge metal that you find on older style Mac Pros.

HP Z840-3
The front handle also doubles as a nice holder for smart phones and other devices.
HP Z840-4
The back handle can also double as a device holder. Notice the main power connector at the top right of the case on the back. The Z840 has a switching power supply.


HP starting with z800 took many queues from Apple and the side handle to open the machine on the side of the case is one such touch.

The side handle has one really nice feature – it’s lockable (keys included).  While for many of us locking your computer case is not a big deal, for many buying these machines, security is important so it’s nice to know you can lock down the machine if you need too.

HP Z840-7
The lockable case is a nice touch – just don’t lose the keys!


On the back of the machine the I/O is pretty straight forward. There are a whole bunch of legacy connections (important to someone) like old school PS/2 ports for older mice and keyboards.

But most important are all the USB ports – you’ll find 2 USB 2 ports (labeled in black) and 4 more USB 3 ports. I’m using the USB 2 ports for Dongles and the USB 3 ports for everything else.

Like many modern workstations, you’ll find dual Gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting to your network or other Ethernet based devices. I have not had a need for WiFi on this machine, and to be honest I don’t know if it’s built in.

HP Z840-5
Additional I/O on the back of the case


So you’d think taking the cover off the machine is nothing special – well the HP Z840 cover panel is full of great information (and thermal sealing).

There is a block diagram, memory installation information and information on PCI slot configuration all stamped on the inside of the removable panel.  I think this is a fantastic touch!

How often have you been inside your machine only to not remember what PCI slot are which or what memory slots you should use and then you have to get up and Google the answer?

Having this info printed right on the case really can come in handy.


HP Z840-10
The removable case cover includes lots of info including this block diagram of the machine’s mother board.


Once you gain access to inside of the machine with a quick pull of the case handle, you’re presented with what looks like a sealed inaccessible machine.

HP Z840-8
Much like a Mac Pro, The Z840 features paneling that directs airflow and protects components. It’s a tool less design. All of the ‘shrouds’ can be pulled out.


You’re probably thinking yeah that’s a PC – well, no tools needed.  Again, taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the HP Z840 features a tool less design.

Removing the covers or shrouds for the PCIe area, Processor/Memory area and other locations is simply a matter of pulling up on the black handles marked with neon green lines.

HP Z840-13
Any area with a green line represents a touch point for pulling something out of the Z840
HP Z840-18
Here I am taking out the PCIe area cover with a simple pull up.
HP Z840-19
In a similar fashion, the processor/memory area cover is a pull up – this cover is much more substantial and very well engineered.


I’ve been hands on with a lot of machines that have been really well engineered but the processor area cover on the z840 is pretty darn amazing.

Comprising fans, bends/tunnels (for airflow) and precise molding of plastic this is one sophisticated cover!

HP Z840-20
Here is a side view of the processor/memory cover. It’s extremely well engineered.


Once these main covers have been removed you get really easy access to the PCI slots, memory, processors, power connectors and other areas of the computer.

HP Z840-21
Remove two covers and you have access to nearly the entire machine.


Also much like an older style Mac Pro, the drive area of the Z840 relies on a pull-out and plugin approach for storage (note you can configure the machine with PCIe based Flash Storage).

The machine can handle 5 traditional hard drives, or you can configure the machine to get 8 2.5in bays.  Another great feature: the entire drive area can be removed and swapped out.

HP Z840-17
Sliding drives in and out of the Z840 is easy.
HP Z840-16
I love the tool less design – it even extends to putting drives into the drive sleds.


One really nice thing about the drive sleds is they are also tool less.  No need to screw those ridiculously small screws into the side of a drive.

The sleds allow to simply bend the side and place pins in to the sides of traditional drives.  Just note, you’ll need a 3.5in to 2.5in adapter for SSDs if you’re going to use the standard drive bay configuration.

If you don’t want to buy the really expensive HP version of this adapter here are the adapters I’ve used.

In my configuration, although in the above screen shot I show a traditional hard drive, I’m using SSDs in all 5 bays.  I simply haven’t swapped out the entire drive area for the 8 2.5 in. option.

Moving closer in, here are the processor sockets and their heat sinks as well as the memory slots.  Right now you can put in 512GB of memory, but soon you’ll be able to put in 128GB DIMMs for 2TB of memory!  Yes 2TB of Memory!

HP Z840-22
Nope, those aren’t antenna. Those are the heat sinks for the Xeon’s in the z840. In my config each processor is a 12 Core 2.6 Ghz Gen 3 unit.


HP Z840-24
The Z840 can handle up to 2TB of DDR4 2133 Mhz RAM. If you can afford that I’d love to stay on your private island.


One more note about the memory – this is DDR4 Memory operating at 2133Mhz.  This is incredibly fast memory, but also currently very expensive.

The PCI slots in the Z840 are on the one hand amazing – there are 7 including 3 x16 PCIe 3 slots, 2 x8 PCIe 3 slots, 1 x4 PCIe 3 Slot and if you need it a PCI 2 x 1 slot.

But on the other hand they’re also frustrating!  The thing is the x16 slots are single width!  For most of us, having a x16 slot means GPUs and what pro level GPU is single slot?

I’ll get into this more in Part 2, but this is a frustrating thing and a big reason to consider something like a SuperMicro that as double width x16 slots.

Here is the layout of slots:


Putting GPUs in any of the x16 slots will block the next slot down – a huge bummer.

Also, as I mentioned in the section on my configuration I have the HP Thunderbolt 2 card.  That goes in SLOT 5, but you have to reconfigure that slot via jumpers to a x4 slot.

For some really odd reason the card just won’t work in slot 1 which already is a x4 slot.  I’ve written HP asking about that odd phenomenon.


HP Z840-23
PCI3e Slots – aren’t they pretty! Note in this picture I was still in process of configuring the machine. You can see the TB card and the side of a low end NVIDA GTX card that I had at home.
HP Z840-6
PCIe slots from the back. I was still in process building the machine but note the TB card – you get one TB 2 port and one full sized display port.


I really love this hardware!  Besides the old school connectors on the back, this is a really well engineered machine.  While maybe not as polished as Mac, it’s functional and I’ll take functional any day of the week over pretty – after all clients don’t pay you based on how your computer looks.

Windows 8.1

I’ll fully cover my feelings about the Windows OS in the next installment of this series, however I wanted to discuss why I went with Windows 8.1

If you ask around, many pros seem to prefer Windows 7 for several reasons:

  • Stability – Windows 7 is a tried and true version of the OS. Drivers, Apps and hardware seemingly have no problems.
  • Support – There is a bit of myth that companies catering to the media industry really only support Windows 7 but thats just not true – it’s a good OS but most companies do support Windows 8+
  • Look/Feel – An important reason – Windows 7 looks and feels like Windows where Windows 8+ is a different approach.

All of these things are important, but I want to go on record as a die hard Mac user – Windows 8.1 is the most Mac like Windows OS I have ever used.  Nearly everything about Windows 8.1 is intuitive.  While I’m still getting to know a lot of the trouble shooting and preference type issues of Windows, I feel really comfortable with 8.1.

Ever since I started using it, I haven’t really ever been frustrated, worried or angry at how it works.

I’m also really looking forward to Windows 10 which promises to be a good melting of Windows 7 and Windows 8.  And yes – Microsoft seemingly is emulating Apple going to 10 (not X!)

The two strangest Windows 8.1 things for me are that there are ‘native’ apps that run full screen and are touch friendly – like Mail, Internet Explorer and a few others.  Then there are Desktop apps – meaning everything else that run like a normal applications.

Second, Windows 8.1 relies heavily on contextual corners of the screen for various options and settings and different apps seem to utilize these areas differently.

I’ve found that Win + D to access the Desktop, Win + C to access charms/settings,  and Alt + Tab to switch between apps are the shortcuts I’m using most BUT, there is a lot to learn on the shortcut/power user front.


Screenshot (3)
The Windows 8 Start Menu is surprisingly Mac Launchpad like


I’ll be honest – I don’t know enough yet about Windows 8 to be a guru, but what I can tell you is that it’s not nearly as scary as some Mac folks make it out to be.

Indeed there are some features like split screens, One Note and others that make Windows 8.1 feel really nice.

I will report back in much more detail about my experiences with Windows 8.1 in the next and future Insights.  


Nearly everything that I use on a daily basis works on Windows. For the most part, software that you use on the Mac works exactly the same (minor differences) on Windows.

  • Creative Cloud – Yep, works exactly the same, maybe even a bit more peppy.
  • Resolve – Also the same with some minor differences that I’ll cover in part 2.
  • DropBox – I’m highly invested in DropBox and I’ve had no problems syncing between Mac/Windows.
  • Virtual KVM – I’ve used Synergy for a long time and it works perfectly on this new machine allowing me to share mouse and keyboard between this machine and Macs that I have.
  • PostBox – I know it’s a work station!  However, I want email where ever I go. I use PostBox and it works great on Windows.
  • Chrome – I miss Safari a bit, but Chrome on Windows works for the most part the same.

Of course there are some miscelaneous pieces of software – VLC, Media Info, HandBrake and so on  – but all of those have Mac and Windows variants.

The one thing that will be new to Mac users moving to Windows is security software.  So far, seems like Windows Defender works well.  However for other nasty stuff, I’ve been using MalwareBytes.

Something my buddy Jeff Greenberg mentioned was www.ninite.com.  While not specific to Windows (works on Mac too) it’s a cool place to download a single installer for many common apps like iTunes, Spotify, DropBox and others.

In Part 2

In part 2 of this short series I want to share quite a few things about actually using the HP Z840.

How is the actual switch over to Windows working out.  Does Windows suck?  Does it make me miss the Mac even more?

How does Resolve function on the Windows platform?

How have I been getting around the lack of ProRes encoding on Windows?

Is Linux a viable option on a HP Z840 vs. something a bit more robust like the SuperMicro series of workstations?

What are the things I like the most about this switch and what things are driving me crazy?

I’ve already started working on Part 2 so keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks.

Any questions?  Please use the comments below to let me know.  



59 thoughts on “Hands On With The HP Z840 Part 1”

    1. So the machine was just under 12k through my reseller. Compared to the 9k for a similarly equipped Mac Pro. But remember I get an extra 12 core processor, PCI slots, Blu-Ray expandability etc. Also one thing I think is important to note but I don’t want to push to much as I’m not an accountant is we lease all of our machines – usually 3 years FMV. This significantly helps cashflow and keeps monthly cost a comfortable level.

      In regards to the cubix – yes already owned it. The reason I use it because I want to have multiple GPUs going – in this case 3x Titan’s in the Cubix. That could be done (maybe) in the case if you had no other cards going and weren’t running other drives etc (power needy) But the cubix offers 1500watt just for the cards. In addition because the x16 slots are single with in the z840 that in my opinion does limit what you can do with GPUs in the box simple because you’re going to want to use other cards and using multiple GPUs you’re gonna block some slots.

  1. Robbie you hit the ball out of the park with this amazingly complete and inspiring document. I have this saved for future reference. I’m already hitting some limits with the new MacPro and I’ve started this investigation process realizing it’s going to take a lot of time. You’ve made it easy with this document to add this to my studio. Thank you.

    1. wow! Thank you so much Tom. I’m glad I could help. Not done yet. In Part 2 and possibly in a Part 3 I want to dive into actually using the machine – exploring the specs and the outside of the box don’t mean a whole lot if it can’t do what you want it to do! Stay tuned!

      1. oh ya …. you had me at the “Physiology of Making the Switch”. I’m waiting on Part 2 …… honestly I’ve hit some limits with the projects I’m getting using the new Macpro. I did get a huge discount via a relative so the price was right. But geeesh the various random rendering issues at 4k have hurt bad. I cannot run Sapphire plugins, there are Issues with running in realtime with NR and whatever mix of nodes needed for a clip — tends to bog down (yes I use caching but you know what I mean …). So it goes with machines. Looking forward to Part 2 cuz I’m moving in that direction.

    2. I’m in the same boat as Tom, literally maxed out a “maxed out” Mac Pro. Highly doubt it will last 3 years given the trend of higher res and HQ material coming in :(. Appreciate this as I hadnt considered an HP

  2. I would recommend 1 major change..

    get a nvidia quadro graphics for your main monitor. (this gives you 10bit color output.) get a single or duel slot, single probably good enough.. saves on the slots.. Then get a new LG 10bit true 4K display. Then your working in colour accurate control monitor.. and also get 4K capabilities to boot.. (Mac has a problem and can only display true 4k at 50Hz and not 60Hz.. Mac can only do UHD at 60Hz)
    You could always use multi monitor on the card, one fore control display in 8bit and second duel-display-port for 4k-10bit playback/grading/4k monitor. (tho running at 60hz and not native freq of content.)

    Either way, “amazingly” cost effective to get into grading capable monitor at 4K.

    I see the main issue with macPro is that its not really designed to go into 4K in the real sense. yes it can do 4K type work, but once you push it to real workflows that become complex and heavy on the system, its a PC that is the only choice as you can ramp it up to suite.. And finally I don;t see Apple upgrading the MacPro-CAN for some time. Consider how long it took last time. consider how small a niche market the hi-end post industry is. consider how the main market for MacPro-CAN is photo/prosumer-video. Markets the MacPro-CAN serves very well.. There is no motivation for them to do so. Its not their focus.

    Then look at all the other hi-end finishing. SGO, Quantel, Autodesk, etc. Yes they may have some mac offering, but the hero kit is all Windows or linux on very powerful PC hardware…

    1. Hi James – thanks for your comment!

      Regarding the graphics card choice a few things:

      First I don’t really care what my computer monitors are doing! I know that sounds strange! I’m primarily a Resolve colorist so all audio/video is pumped out via SDI to my reference monitor (Sony BVMF250 OLED). In this new setup that I/O is the Ultrastudio 4k which can do UHD, HD all at 10bit 4:2:2 or 4:4:4. I’m not making any color critical decisions on my computer monitors. I’m actually running 1920 x 1200 computer monitors mainly as I have a central machine room and run all DVI to the monitors in suite via Cat 5 to DVI adapters. Maybe in the future I’ll update to higher rez monitors but that means new adapters or new connectivity to get to them.

      Second, having relatively beefy graphics card in the box is really only important to me for some accelerated apps and tasks – encoding for example via Adobe Media Encoder. In Resolve this card does nothing – its simply used to power the UI. As I noted in the post I have a Cubix PCIe 3 expansion box that houses 3 x Titan Blacks each a 6GB of VRAM. Due to the way that Resolve processes, the cards can share that x16 PCIe3 bus. I can easily do 4k+ Red work etc at full quality. I’ll go on more about that in part 2.

      Lastly, your point about Quadro cards is well taken. For the most part the higher clock speeds on the Geforce cards out perform Quadro variants. For example a 12GB Titan Z outperforms the much more expensive 12 GB Quadro k6000 in Resolve.But of course the Quadro cards are in many respects meant for 24/7 Pro operation.

      Seeing how I already had made the investment in the Titan blacks I didn’t see the point in tossing those in favor of something like the k5200s (8GB) which are double the price and have about the same performance in Resolve. I have a couple k5200s and a k6000 that I use for other tasks in other machines so I’ve tested the performance quite a bit.

      As for using a Quadro card in the box i thought about it for sure!

      it’d be super to put one of the k5200s I have in the machine as you suggest. The issue is that Quadro cards in combination with GeForce cards (the Titan’s I have running the Cubix) don’t seem to play nice with each other. Big time driver conflicts. In my testing, I was getting system hangs, and very slow performance

      1. Yes Rob, I completely agree.. I “only” mention quadro because to output 10bit from a computer you need a Quadro.. Otherwise I would keep away from them as you mention….
        I am only talking for display card only……

        Point being here, if you making a stand alone grading Resolve system, you need a colour accurate monitor. Now in 4K, the cost of a good Quadro card, and a new 10bit LG 4K monitor is a fraction of the price of any other 4K type grading options similar to your purchase (and your sony monitor is only 1920×1080).. a SMALL fraction.. And if your building a systems like this, 4K is likely in your mind, so having a 4K pixel for pixel grading display is reasonably important. ie you want to see into the highlights and dark areas and how the pixel for pixel looks when you push it.. a HD monitor is not going to allow this.. you need a native resolution colour accurate monitor.

        But interesting to hear the driver issues when having a quadro and GTX grade card in the system. thats a huge disappointment. Its something you should chase up considering the above points.

        1. totally get it! And agree!

          Next 3-6 months my main goal is to find a suitable 4k monitor – in my suite it’ll probably mainly be used for client display as you suggest 1:1 pixel checking and well to just look cool! Currently have a LG 55in HD OLED for that purpose calibrated (LUT box in front of it). LG has announced 4k OLEDs at CES, but one thing on my check list for NAB is to check out the 4k offerings from all the usual suspects – my problem is I’ve been spoiled by OLED for to long – not sure I can use another tech!

          1. My idea setup is a Resolve system with a LG 31MU97, 97% P3 IPS 4096×2160 (true 4K) display connected to the resolve system, then a BM card driving a DCI-cinema projector (for the full 100% P3 and real cinematic feel) on a 3.5 wide screen, in my case one of the new Laser units due to the better uniformity and solid, no drift, color reproduction. its only a 2K projector, but the 4K units are super expensive and you need a much bigger projection room etc, which again costs huge to build.

            If your in Melbourne Australia, come down for a look. I build this room for development of software, but some time do deals on budget films who need a break.
            Still setting up a few areas like an upgraded Resolve system and how to get to 4K output monitor, as this thread shows..

            I also plan to do some cinematic HDR experiments in the future.. I have plenty of power in the projector to push up the nits…

          2. just curious….machine in the room or in a machine room? In my facility there is quite a bit of distance 100-115 ft or so between my room/monitors and the machine room….so my issue would be that monitor run.

            Sounds like a sweet set up! 97% of my work is for broadcast so right now P3 and true 4k aren’t a requirement.

            I may take you up on the visit! I lived in Sydney for a longtime and often go back to visit friends and family.

          3. I have a smaller Resolve system in my room right now, its 6core 3.6MHz titan Z etc.. 6xDisk system, and its quite enough to not matter. The Case is designed to be quite and it uses liquid cooling for very quiet and no-thermal throttling.. The HD are the main issue.. however it is very quiet and very local..
            And from what I see, this is the trend as its a lot easier to put systems in room. Especially if doing dry hire and people bring in the kit. Running these high quality displays long distance is always troublesome.
            ‘We actually do have a machine room too and typically only run SDI back there now.

            The more expensive need now is 10Gbe everywhere is becoming the requirement. In a file based delivery world.. Annoyed 10Gbe is still as expensive as it is..
            Cannot wait until its stock on all computers…. (I wish!)

  3. Hi Robbie, Great post! Welcome to the PC world 😉

    Quick question: In your post you mention Resolve for Linux. (I know you are comming back to this in your next post)
    Do you know if Resolve on Linux is also available as software only? Or do I need to buy the panels to get the Linux version?
    The lack of Prores support is the only reason I consider moving to Linux.

    1. its only available when you buy the big panels – you get a mac/pc dongle and a linux dongle. As I’ll detail in the next post its a little bit of a catch 22 with Linux – you get ProRes BUT you loose a lot of other apps. If only Apple would stop holding ProRes encode for ransom….

  4. Hi, just some thoughts from another Mac vet on his first PC and a very happy bunny indeed.

    1. In the Z820 anyway, the Thunderbolt card only works in slot 5 because this is the one connected to the Intel controller and not directly to the CPUs, which was the only way they got it to work properly. Worth noting that this is 2GBs only and 20Gbs is actually 2.5GBs. Apparently all TB maxes out at around 1400Gbs anyway… more here


    2. I managed to fit a K5000 in the bottom slot, to free up space for PCIe storage. This only blocks the pretty much useless PCI slot. However, it may melt the cables at the bottom of the computer, waiting to see, gulp! There is definitely nowhere to put a Titan-Z. Am eagerly awaiting evolving Nividias as 3 slots is just not possible internally

    3. Worth mentioning Fusion ioFX cards, as it seems some people are selling the 420GB version pretty cheap now the 1.4Tb versions are out… and 2 striped playback 4k dpx very smoothly. I have 4! This gives me a smooth fast reliable 1600TB drive for live projects. Be good to hear how Resolve cache is/can be optimised for this, as Nuke can scrub a hell of a lot better with these in. Certainly encode times are sped up a lot… I had a lot of issues with a 2 drive Samsung 840 Pro RAID which would SERIOUSLY drop down to tiny write speeds during long renders.

    4. HP accessories are so overpriced so worth searching around for others, like the drive caddies mentioned. I also used a refurb supplier at a greatly reduced cost as I don’t really think I benefit from the support packages. If I could afford it I would though just to support HP who have really stepped in to save us.

    5. If only my CP200 panels would work with Resolve… sigh.

    1. Hey Tristan – You’re right about slot 5. I found that out later after asking an HP rep. I’m not to concerned about overall through put. So far with the Ultrastudio 4k all is well.

      I too stuffed the 970 I’m using into that bottom slot! yes time should tell if that causes issue with those cables at the bottom of the case but for now not to worried about it. In practicality a Titan Z is just not possible – for the fun of it I popped that in with now other cards to run some bench marks.

      Very interesting on the 840s. So far no issue for me – but I do have ioFX card I can pull from another system for back up.

      Glad to hear its all working well for you too!

  5. Hey Robbie, thanks for the great write up!

    I’m also considering switching to a PC for more brute force power. That being said I’m wondering if you could answer the following questions and if the following config is possible within the Z840, if so do you see any bottlenecks with this setup?

    2 x GTX 980 (or whatever is coming soon either way it would be 2 double width cards)
    1 Sas Raid Card
    1 TB2 Card connected to Magma PCIE enclosure which houses (1 Kona 3G Card and 1 BMD Decklink Card)
    I know its redundant but I need both both Video cards online at the same time

    Just out of curiosity what kind of debayer speeds and quality are you getting with your setup with 6K Dragon Footage?


    1. Hi Harris –

      So the issue if you look at the slot diagram above with 2×980 is you’ll loose a slot below and the GPUs need to be in x16 slots. In my config I put the 970 all the way at the bottom covering up the useless PCI2x1 slot. The TB card needs to go in Slot 5. So what that leaves you for another GPU slot is slot 2 but then you loose the other x8 slot. I’m guessing you have an ATTO RAID card or similar? It should run fine with a minimal speed loss in the x4 slot in the top slot – but best to check with the card manufacturer.

      Funny you ask about the r3d debayer. Since I’ve put this machine into to play I haven’t had a RED job! I can tell you its plowing through Arri Raw and CNDG like perfectly at full quality.

      1. Hey Robbie,

        Thanks for the reply. So if I am understanding correctly wouldn’t it be possible to do the following config?

        Slot 1 OPEN
        Slot 2 GTX 980
        Slot 3 BLOCKED
        Slot 4 RAID CARD (8x?)
        Slot 5 TB 2 CARD
        Slot 6 GTX 980
        Slot 7 BLOCKED

        If this does work, is there enough system power to run all these cards, + 1 SSD and a 4 drive for an internal Raid or is it too much?

        I’m very curious to see what this machine can do with Red footage and all those GPU’s. Let me know if you need a test clip if you don’t have anything laying around.


        1. Harris – I’m so sorry to have missed this! I think if you have the larger power supply you should be in good shape. Just this week I put in 2x Titan X cards IN THE BOX and disconnected the cubix for now – long story. And I’m totally fine and even doing some full throttle tests. The one big difference is I’m not running 4 mechanical drives which are probably eating up a lot of power.

  6. This may seem strange but would you consider alternatives from say, Origin PC, which allow for up to 4 GPUs (including Titans) to be configured by default? Specifically coming from someone without a cubix and several awesome GPUs to add to a
    new unit.

    1. Hey Jason –

      Yeah I think thats 100% a viable thing. TO be honest the reason I went with the HP was I got a nice discount through a reseller. A buddy of mine actually has the Origin Genesis – he’s a gamer. And its an amazing machine. I think he has 4x980s in SLI in there and playing on a 65″ 4k LED. It’s pretty slick. I have two concerns on the gammer type machines

      1. Xeon’s are usually no were to be found, and most of the time you’re talking about a single socket CPU. While of course for us GPU is king but CPUs still matter ALOT for codec decoding, debayering for certain formats and of course things like encoding etc.

      2. Support – I know most companies are pretty damn good these days but there IS a difference between the support you get on a workstation level machine and a system mainly built for gaming.

      I think you’re probably like me Jason – always wanting the fastest and latest. I gotta be honest. The cards like a Titan X are so good, so fast these days that I’ve actually lost my lust of 8 card Linux systems!

      1. Sounds fantastic and I couldnt agree more w 1-3. Thrilled to hear theyre as good as theyve been talked about (Titan X). Origin actually does do workstation PCs now with Xeons and non-gamer based motherboards (which tend to have every extra thrown in, at the expense of some stability and compatibility) so it seems they’ve realized that there is a demand for custom high end workstations outside of the usual manufacturers (HP, Dell, etc). I was concerned about the “gamer” aspect as well, as I want 24/7 stability and thats what “serverworkstation” components tend to favor, as opposed to “more lights, 2 sound cards, 3 software raid controllers, and a partridge, etc). They took care of me and went the extra mile, special ordering and installing my BMD i/o card and everything.

          1. Ya, decided on the Millenium Pro (mid tower workstation) as a nMP replacement. I like that they only offer one motherboard. Its totally gonna come days before NAB haha
            10 Core Xeon 3.1Ghz (Turbo to 3.5)
            Dual Titan X
            64GB RAM
            LSI Megaraid 8i
            Raid 0 for systemboot: dual 480GB Intel SSDs
            Raid 5 for data video: 5x 8TB HGST 7200 (things are crazy!)
            BMD Intensity 4k Pro (new from BMD)

          2. Interesting! If you get the time I would love to know your playback speeds (set resolve timeline speed to 50FPS to go above 24fps etc.) for 4K, 5K and 6K RED full res premium GPU debayer (with your set up its certainly CPU bound!)

            Also what are your memory bandwidth scores in geekbench? Could you share the geekbench result?

          3. Will do, Toby! Arrives Tuesday (and about freaking time). I’m gonna do some quick torture testing before I jump into my next 2 projects, so please let me know if you’d like any specific tests or performance measurements. Loved ur work on the machine.

          4. Hey Robbie and Toby, Been playing around with the system and a few of my RED dragon Epic projects ranging from 4k to 6K. VERY workable using at 4k UHD timeline with 6k Dragon set to Half Res Premium, about 10-15fps altho my storage is degraded so thats screwing w my scores. Seems like 4k projects are now very doable without me holding back creatively (my BIG issue prior). Resolve NR is still KILLER, but Neatvideo is throwing almost 7 fps on 4k footage (inside the app, there is a test to optimize the plug-in). Thats up from 1-2fps @ HD on Dual D700s! More exact benchmarks as I have time to test. One happy colorist aside from the failing disk (which is being replaced asap)

          5. So no realtime 6K Red debayer perfomance at even half res? What about you Robbie!? What is 5K like? Can you get realtime full res at 4K premium atleast?

          6. Unfortunately, its not looking like 6K RED debayer is gonna be realtime despite my hopes. Pretty good, but still needs caching, especially w a few streams layered. 5K is a bit better, altho i wont be realtime once I start grading. POSSIBLY without a grade, but I’m still enabled caching for this 5K job shot on dragon if that says anything. I actually dont have too much 4K RED media, but Im starting a feature shot at 4k on previous gen RED so Ill have more feedback on that soon. Also, MAJOR NR testing will likely come.

            Add in the fact Im starting to use some OFX plugins slowly, 5k and 6k realtime WITH a grade doesnt seem like it quite in reach yet without one more titan X, a dedicated cuda (Tesla??) card, or a rocket X. However, this gives me a very workable 4k set-up from 6k source, based on my few hours of work so far. NR tech is gonna need to become smarter to handle these res increases IMO, as that when it falls flat

          7. Interesting. Can you tell if you are CPU bound or GPU bound on the debayer? (Activity Monitor should show CPU and ‘Open GL Driver Monitor’ will show you GPU usage/load (even when Cuda/OpenCL not just OpenGL)

          8. It still appears to be GPU bound in terms of performance limitations. on a render of 6K down to 1080 w a basic grade, CPU usage is hanging around 40%ish. Ill have a better idea once my replacement raid arrives (only getting 500MB/s although that shouldnt hurt this render)

          9. Interesting… And that’s with dual Titan X’s with ‘Use GUI GPU for processing’ selected in the DaVinci preferences? Also CUDA being used and not OpenCL? That doesn’t seem right!

          10. It does seem a little funky, and yes, I’m using all the above settings, sees both GPUs, SLI disabled. Per BMD, in Windows it apparent uses CUDA auto when it sees Nvidia, so def using CUDA. I need to do some testing and investigation as to why it not performing up to its fall potential. 2-4fps render on 6k Dragon to 4k DCI without NR, w a fairly intense grade. Still a bit slow from what I expected. I’ll keep you this thread updated

          11. You don;t have 16-bit debayer or DEB selected do you? That would slow down the debayer significantly…

          12. Holy cr*p!!! I do have DEB enabled, as Ive been working on so much Dragon footage, I set it as default. Let me disable and see how things fair. Im finishing a 6k project rendering out to a 5K deliverable (as its going to be projected very strangely and they need the res), so Ill have a nice real word test w/o DEB enabled by the end of today. Thanks for the heads up, didnt realize DEB was such a performance kill

          13. Ooh exciting…looking forward to seeing those number go up! DEB is basically temporal NR from what I understand so no wonder its been slow with NR on top!

          14. Toby, I owe you a beer! Dont have specific numbers yet, but my render cache is already WAY faster. Can’t believe I totally forgot about DEB and didnt do further research (smack). Ill get back w actual render numbers and some tests tonight. Thanks again!

          15. GREAT NEWS. Please can you do some PLAYBACK figures for reference? Sometimes these can be higher than render (and more important in some respects). Please set timeline frame rate to 50 so any figures above 24 show up as so. Also if you have time this week it would be great to see if the ‘faster’ scaling helps playback…


          16. Playback seems to still be cpu bound per Rohid at BMD. I get ~7-15 fps full res premium 6k (rc4, redlogfilm) on average, depending also on output codec. I’m using 16b RGB Cineform as my output I’m on Windows, which I notice is slower than ProRes was on a Mac. 4K is very responsive now though, compared to before. Render Cache is fairly peppy w DNxHR HQX. Let me know if I can provide further testing #s or u have any other ideas like DEB (thx again!!)

          17. Interesting. That’s about right in terms of the performance I expected. Have you tried 5K? I’m hoping an overclocked 5960x (which gets a geekbench score of nearly 40,000) can get to near realtime, which would be great for source caching Hut not necessarily necessary!

          18. Let me check a 5k Project and see how it goes for playback. Storage isnt the limiting issue here, as those new helium filled HGST drives are pushing 800-900MB/s R/W with just 5 of them.

  7. Nice work. When is Part 2 coming? I’m interested in using the Z840 with Linux Resolve! Its either that or going DIY with the 7 PCIE beast Asus X99-E WS and overclocking an 8-core 5960X, which gets really impressive CPU power, certainly exceeding a single 12-core Xeon, getting 39,000 in Geekbench (source: http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/iintel_core_i7_5960x_extreme_edition/4.htm).

    Out of curiosity, how does your Z840 beast do on Geekbench. I find geekbench multicore scores good indicators for RED unpacking performance you see…

    1. Hey Toby –

      I’m hitting about 55,000 on GeekBench right now. But that’s a bit lower then expected at the moment. I had two DIMMS go bad so I think i’m starving the cores a bit. I”m working on Part 2 now. I hope to have it out this week or next

      1. Interesting! Thanks!

        If you get the time I would love to know your playback speeds (set resolve timeline speed to 50FPS to go above 24fps etc.) for 4K, 5K and 6K RED full res premium GPU debayer (with your set up its certainly CPU bound!)

        Looking forward to part 2.

        Also what are the memory bandwidth scores in geekbench? Could you share the geekbench result?

  8. Hello Robbie,

    just found your website and this interesting discussion too. Thank you for it! Nice reading!!
    I’m a system manager of a pretty big (150 colleagues) company of a Civil Engineering office in Switzerland.

    During my free time I enjoy my passion on computers and video editing.

    My wish for this year was to buy a super PC to work on 4K video files and have some good performance.

    I finally bought a new Z840 (amazing machine I’ve to say) too with this configuration:

    -2x CPU XEON 2.3 Ghz of 12 Cores each one.
    -nVidia Quadro M6000 (owned K6000 so far).
    -2x Z Turbo drives of 512 MB (RAID 0 as cache)
    -2x SAS 600Gb hard disks 15k (RAID 0 as data)
    -2x MICRON SSD 238 Gb (one for boot, one for export)

    For the backup of the data I’ve a WD Sentinel NAS and a Synology NAS connected through Gb LAN.

    Actually I would like to try to install a new Z turbo drive of 256 Gb as export disk, instead of the Micron SSD (it will indeed be faster).

    The strange thing is that the machine arrived with the GPU installed in SLOT 2, instead of 6, as it’s suggested on the workstation manual on the HP website.
    Like I read from your comments too, the best place should be to move it to SLOT 6, and cover SLOT 7 too, that isn’t necessary.
    That was I can have free space for the 3rd Z Turbo drive I already own.

    As monitors I use 2x 27” HP Dreamcolor.

    I keep looking forward for the other part 2 and 3 of your post.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Chris

      I am from Switzerland as well and thinking of buying the same setup as you (Z840). Do you have any hints concerning the setup as you’ve used it for a year now? I will use it for Davinci Resolve (4k) as well as scientific computing and Protools. Mainly:
      – Which set of Processors? (freq. & #cores?)
      – How much RAM? (…thinking of 8×8 GB?)
      – Quadro M6000, 12 GB –> would you add a second graphics card? Or is this “enough”?
      – Where to buy in Switzerland?

      May I contact you quickly by phone concerning these questions?

      Greetings from Bern, CH

  9. I’m ready for part 2 post-NAB as my macpro cheese grater 6 years running just isn’t cutting it anymore Robbie! Monitoring upgrades looming right behind this major system upgrade as well but that’s whole other story…

  10. Hi Robbie, now that apple is proving to be unreliable in bringing forth a Pro machine your insights into your pc machine and your windows experience is more valuable than ever. Do you have further information? Thanks

  11. This is a brilliant piece and myself included have been looking forward to a part.2! For all classic Mac Pro users out there that are feeling left out in the cold and not sure which way to turn we offer free and impartial advice for switching to the Hp Z workstation for post and audio in the UK & EU. http://www.workstationpros.co.uk

  12. Hi Robbie, i have removed my PCIe cover but i am not able to close it properly.
    The second lock is not getting locked properly, do you have any suggestion for that.

  13. Hi Robbie, I’m new in building a PC so i came with some specs for a custom Z840, but I’m not sure if they will work. I’m trying to keep the price around $10000.

    This are the specs:
    2 Intel® Xeon® E5-2690 v4 Processor (2.6 GHz, up to 3.5 GHz w/Turbo Boost, 35 MB cache, 2400 MHz, 14 core)
    HP Z840 1125W (1450W/200V) 90 Percent Efficient Chassis
    64GB DDR4-2400 (4x16GB) 2 CPU Registered RAM
    512 GB HP Z Turbo Drive G2 PCIe SSD (For OS and programs)
    1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2 TLC PCIe 2nd SSD (Cache and Exports)
    NVIDIA® QUADRO® P5000 (16 GB GDDR5X, 4 x Displayport 1.4 + DVI-D DL)
    9.5mm Slim Blu-ray Writer SATA 1st Optical Disc Drive
    HP Z Cooler (2 Processors)
    HP Thunderbolt-2 PCIe 1-port I/O Card

    I have some configurations where they have two graphic cards what are the advantages of doing that. Aside from the internal memory i’ll be using a Promise Technology 24TB for archiving and reading the footage.

    Thanks in advance and congratulations for the great work.

    1. Hey Sebastian –

      A few things:

      I need to do an updated version of this article!

      Next, is the z840 is now on its way out. Last week HP introduced the new Z8 which will replace the Z840 http://www8.hp.com/us/en/campaigns/workstations-z8/index.html

      Don’t get me wrong the 840 is a great machine but you might want to look into the new z8 or pickup a used 840 for a lot less money.

      As far as your config everything looks pretty good but I would suggest a few changes.

      1. More RAM. While 64GB seems like a lot with 2x 14 core processors you might be starving the processing cores especially in highly threaded apps. A good rule of thumb is 2-4gb per physical core (although some will urge using virtual cores as the basis). So I’d bump your RAM to 128GB or more. Memory from HP is $$$$ you can find 2400mhz ECC RAM for way cheaper 3rd party.

      2. Quadro cards use higher precision then GTX cards. If you’re mainly using Resolve then the quadro is a waste of $$ as resolve doesn’t take advantage of that. For the same price as the P5000 you could get 2x GTX Titan XPs or save even a little more and get 2x 1080TI cars. Those cards will fly in Resolve.

      3. Which leads me to the final thing. I’d save the PCI slots and $ and not go with the Z Turbo’s in the 840. Your main bottle neck is still going to be the speed of the Promise RAID (what probably 700-800mb/s?) So I’d go with traditional SSDs and that will leave room for multiple GPUs. If you’re going to wait to get a z8 that machine supports 2x NVMe slots (same tech as the zTurbos just doesn’t take up a PCIe Slot)

      Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Hundreds of Free Tutorials

Get full access to our entire library of 900+ color tutorials for an entire week!

Start Your Free Trial